What is a Menstrual Cup?

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  • Written By: Allison Boelcke
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 September 2019
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A menstrual cup is an apparatus used to hold blood during menstruation, rather than absorb it like tampons or sanitary napkins. It is a flexible cup that is folded and inserted into the vaginal canal, where it opens up and collects the menstrual blood. Depending on the brand, some menstrual cups may be reusable, while others are disposable.

The first menstrual cups were made in the 1930s, but were not widely marketed or used. They were made from rubber and were not pliable, which caused them to be difficult to insert and uncomfortable to wear for extended periods of time. Another possible reason for the lack of popularity was that women during that time period still preferred external menstrual protection from sanitary napkins; tampons were also not yet commonly used. During the 1980s, menstrual cups started being produced from softer materials like silicone and were then mass produced as an alternative to sanitary napkins and tampons.


Exact usage instructions for a menstrual cup may be different according to the specific manufacturer, but the woman typically needs to fold the device in halves or quarters before inserting it directly into her vaginal canal. The majority of menstrual cups are designed to be inserted into the lower vaginal canal, rather than being pushed up toward the cervix like tampons. A menstrual cup can be kept inside the vagina for approximately 12 hours before a user has to pour out the collected blood. If the cup is disposable, it is thrown away immediately, while reusable ones can be washed with soap and water, then placed back into the previous position for another 12 hours. After the end of a menstrual cycle, the reusable cup must be boiled for about 20 minutes, then air dried before using the next month.

One advantage of the menstrual cup is the longer protection time it has than sanitary napkins or tampons, which can start to leak in four to eight hours, compared to the menstrual cup’s 12 hour protection period. Supporters of menstrual cups also feel that the reusable cups are more environmentally friendly than other methods. Unlike individual tampons or sanitary napkins, the reusable versions of the cups can just be washed and reinserted.

Menstrual cups may have some possible disadvantages as well, compared to other menstrual protection options. Some women are allergic to the silicone, latex, or other materials the cups are constructed from. If a woman has a shallow vaginal canal, she may find it difficult to insert the cup. The device also cannot be as discreetly changed in public restrooms since it must be washed before reinsertion.


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Post 2

@Scrbblechick --- And then there was the Toxic Shock Syndrome scare, which kept a lot of women from using tampons when they really could have used them. My mom wouldn't buy tampons for me because she was scared to death I'd get TSS. I finally bought my own with babysitting money. My friends were buying records and clothes. Me? Tampons.

Like you, though, the menstrual cup would have been an absolute boon for me. I'm surprised they're not more popular now. I think the only place I've seen them for sale is online.

Post 1

I devoutly wish these had been widely available when I was in high school. Until I started using the super plus absorbency tampons, periods with the heavy days during school were complete misery for me. Not only did I have these killer cramps, I also had a monster flow for about two days, which drove me to the bathroom numerous times during the day. It was always a relief to have a female teacher who understood such things.

A cup wouldn't have eased the cramps, but I could have gotten by with a pad for backup and not worried about messing up my clothes. God, but it was awful!

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